We’ve just wrapped the Henry Stewart Digital Asset Management event in London last week, only a few weeks after the largest-ever gathering of DAM professionals in New York in early May. Though I’m an inherently positive person, I’m a quite a cynic about technology: I don’t think it moves and changes nearly as fast as everyone says it does. It doesn’t inherently empower us as human beings and knowledge workers unless we use it in very specific ways. It doesn’t actually make our jobs any easier. Efficiency may be the modern mandate, but efficiency alone doesn’t equal a job well done.

DAM certainly hasn’t evolved as much as I would have hoped in the last decade, despite all the hype. In fact it seems to have come full circle, that is to say, DAM is a cog in the wheel of what used to be popularly called ECM, or Enterprise Content Management. But now we call it MarTech if we’re marketers, VoD if we’re broadcasters, or Heritage Management & Archives if we’re a cultural institution. File formats have changed, bandwidth has increased (though not enough), but we’re still trying to solve the same problem: getting our content from point A to point Z. Today we’re just more commercial and targeted about it than we were back in 1995, when ECM was mostly about scanning and pushing around documents in the new and exciting virtual world we affectionately called cyberspace.

DAM’s increasingly subsumed place in the content ecosystem became particularly obvious last week as I moderated a panel of solution providers that included Jit Agarwal, Venture Leader for Cognizant assetSERV; Uri Kogan, Vice President of Product Marketing with Nuxeo; Bart Lammertyn, EMEA Business Manager with Esko / MediaBeacon; and Tim Pashuysen, Co-founder and CSO of STYLELABS. Their companies’ products are ones I know well, and so I asked a very pointed question of each gent, focusing on key strengths of each of the tools they sell:

  1. Would anyone buying Stylelabs M need to buy a separate PIM?
  2. Would anyone buying MediaBeacon need to buy a separate system for managing 3D pack shots?
  3. Would anyone buying Nuxeo need to buy a separate document management system?
  4. Would anyone buying AssetSERV need a separate workflow tool?

All four emphatically answered no, which is what I expected. Admittedly it was a leading question, as I wanted to illuminate for the audience that the tools often are far more than DAMs: in all these cases, there’s a DAM inside of a bigger content management tool that tailors to particular industry verticals or use cases, where the traditional notion of assets is part of a much larger picture.

Earlier in the week I’d shared a drink with Alan Pelz-Sharpe, one of the smartest and most experienced ECM analysts I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with. Back when I first became an analyst, Alan being ten years my senior (tough to believe given his youthfulness!) taught me much about what ECM was like in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, before I started working in the industry.

It was all about one source of the truth. Centralized content for universal findability and distribution. Print, then digital, but eventually digital first. Metadata was everything. Early forms of personalization. Those big scanners that made all those papers digital were dazzling to this Gen-Xer who started her content management career with BBEdit and Filemaker Pro.

Well, everything old is new again. Just last month I was staring at a huge room of file cabinets at a client’s office, as the CEO looked at me desperately and said: “How the hell will we ever find anything?” My colleagues at KlarisIP work with legal teams mired in mountains of contracts, seeking to digitize and optimize the content rights and clearances process. Sure, there’s a DAM system in the mix, along with many other systems making sure no one gets sued and everyone gets paid. When your intellectual property is worth billions, as it is for KlarisIP clients, it surely shouldn’t be managed on paper in a file cabinet. And yet for most companies, it still is.

ECM is the new black, and DAM is but one part of the fabric of that perfect little evening dress we slip on for the night out on the town. But just like the dress, it’s the person who’s wearing it that brings it to its full potential. A dress on a hanger is not sexy. And neither is a DAM system or a document scanner alone.

Unsurprisingly, that’s where even the solution providers ended their thoughts at the end of the panel. The tool doesn’t solve the challenges. We do. We weave the fabrics together, DAM, PIM, workflow, and all the rest. Welcome back to being cool and sexy again, ECM. We just had to re-brand you.

Feel free to contact me if you’re struggling with any of these challenges. I’ll help you look great in that little black dress (or suit).